In Every Generation—We Make History . . . Or We Don’t

green_dead fish

2014-12-14 – My young friend Donna apparently attended a demonstration yesterday and was harangued by a member of my generation about how young people these days don’t know how to protest. Donna posted the story on Facebook.

As a member of the haranguing generation, I have a few things to say.

First is that we had no friggin’ idea what we were doing at the time. We were young. And out protests were mostly useless. I came of protest age after the civil rights era of the early sixties. I watched those on TV. My era protested the War in Vietnam. Our protests were cool events, but the common wisdom that they were effective in ending the war is nonsense. At the time, the Vietnam War was the longest war in American history. (Iraq and Afghanistan have since taken the title.) The claim that a bunch of kids in the streets shortened the war is ludicrous.

We definitely created chaos. But chaos created us back. If we had a lasting impact at all, it’s that we ended the draft. From that moment on, our country has been able to fight wars without the enduring support of the people. Because our kids are not drafted.

Second is that every generation has its oppressors and every generation has its liberators. While I and my ilk were in the streets of Chicago, my (then future) brothers-in-law were fighting in Vietnam. And George W. Bush and his ilk were finding ways to get war-hawk cred while avoiding any arduous duty or personal risk. For every “hell no, we won’t go” there were hundreds that just wanted to be left alone.


Third is that, for every great thing my generation brought to the world that was subsequently lost (such as the purported art of protest), there was a not-so-great thing that we brought to the world that subsequently caught on and won’t go away (such as reality TV—and the Tea Party—or any other abomination of your choosing).

Fourth is that, even though things come and go, generation after generation, once in a while something truly great does happen. In the area of political protest, the Freedom Riders and other civil rights protests of the late fifties and early sixties were truly great. They did change the world. I was not part of that. That was before my time. Not much before, but enough before that I was not there.

Fifth is that it is ridiculous for us older folk to put down younger folk for not being . . . well, old. We were unexperienced once. You see stories in the media about how the millennials are a defective generation in one way or another. I got news for you: Thirty and forty years ago, the same stories ran about my generation. The older generation always frets about the younger generation. Then the younger generation grows up and frets about the next one. Once upon a time, our battle cry was “don’t trust anyone over 30” and we sang “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.” Now that we are 64 (or almost 64 in my case), we don’t trust anyone under 30.

We do still ask: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me?”

Will you?

Sixth is that we need to stand together, young and old.

When my son Nat was in middle school, we went to a march together to protest the Iraq war. Us older folk (we were not old yet) loved the opportunity to sing the old songs. (You have to admit that our songs were pretty good!) There were plenty of kids Nat’s age on the march. It was a family event. Nat was proud that he knew many of the songs.

He learned them as part of a history project he did for school.

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